Donovan Woods is a refreshingly uncomplicated songwriter. Studio tricks, superfluous layers and cleverly turned phrases are left behind for scavengers to pick clean. Donovan’s most honest thoughts, purest emotions and best melodies are served without chasers or diluting mix. Simplicity and clarity are his two greatest gifts.
Not surprisingly, Woods’ new record Don’t Get Too Grand is built from the most humble building blocks. The title is a Richard Ford quote but it’s as much a mantra as a subtle nod to a great writer. life is unfair in it’s complexity; songwriting shouldn’t be.
As fitting as Ford’s quote is to describe this collection of songs, Woods could just as easily have dubbed this LP A Grand Don’t Come For Free. Like Mike Skinner at his best, Woods manages to transform life’s monotony into something magical. He might not be rapping about downing Carlings or a thousand bucks that slides behind his TV (and Woods never refers to anyone as a twat), but the way his charisma extends naturally from his every man persona mirrors the British emcee. Woods isn’t the first to reflect on high school relationship that don’t evolve over time, but as he sings of a cop that hates him and still views things as a 19-year old (a relationship we’ve all been forced to deal with) the result is mesmerizing.
Thankfully, Woods wisely used bare bones productions to compliment his stories. Empty space and gentle strums let the listener focus on a tender voice that connects with surprising consistency. They say that a good writer knows the rules of grammar and therefore knows when to break the rules for maximum impact. Woods has but one rule, but knows when to change his vision. Weeping slides, bouncing strings and subtle fuzz are crucial to the final versions of these 11-songs, but every melody is strong enough to exist without assistance.
Ford also said that the friendship’s realest measure was the amount of precious time you’ll squander on someone else’s calamities and fuck-ups. I’d say the same holds true for songwriters, and in Donovan’s case, that measure of time spent seems to have no limit.